The Film (4/5)
New York college student Denise returns to her home of New Orleans to tell her older brothers, Vance and Dan, extremely important news that visibly has her shaken. When Denise breaks through her thick hesitation and informs her brothers that she’s quitting school and is pregnant by and getting married to a black man, the reactions are severely split between the loving openness of Vance and the racial bigotry of Dan. Dan becomes extremely opposed and violent with Denise, disowning his own sister and threatening the lives of her and her boyfriend. When Denise’s boyfriend becomes assassinated a few days later, the beginning of a string of gruesome murders falls upon Denise’s dysfunctional family, starting with her own life being in danger, and creating suspicions amongst themselves.
“Night of the Strangler” certainly has become a timely release for distribution company Vinegar Syndrome with the numerous accounts of racially charged and violent events that have been a plague and stain upon the nation for the past year and like much of the protests and violence that have stemmed from the countless occurrences from all over, “Night of the Strangler’s” story births also an isolated event which explodes into a deadly chaotic mess that spreads from New York to New Orleans. The 1972 grindhouse thriller from director Joy N. Houck Jr., whose hometown is New Orleans, doesn't only touch upon the southern racial intolerance’s and tensions of it’s era, but he also empowers the minority group by outwitting many white main characters, perhaps causing the film to becomes a revenue failure in the theaters for Howco Productions.
The movie's motley cast is just as interesting, bringing a little twisted casting choice to the fold. The American pop-rock band, The Monkees, from the late sixties housed the band's drummer Mickey Dolenz and when the Monkees went inactive after the band semi-split in 1971, Mickey went on to not only do his own solo and duo albums but also became interested in film. Mickey was cast in "Night of the Strangler" as Vance, the middle brother who wants nothing but peace for his family. Then there was the Joe Spinell doppelganger Michael Anthony as Lt. De Vivo, an Italian descendant and persistent gumshoe cop whose smarts and determination over shadow the rest of the casts of characters. Anthony also has great acting chops with compelling and compassionate qualities in hard-persona cop scenes that really sell his performance. Lt. De Vivo serves as the film's only actual hero even though he's a bit rough around the edges and that makes his character unique and likable. The film also casts a young Harold Sylvester, who is most recognizable as being one of Al's best buds on the television sitcom "Married with Children," in his first feature film to be Lt. De Vivo's partner Jim Bunch.
What I thought was interesting about the story is that it follows no conventional film standards. For example, besides not pinpointing a clear-cut hero, the film also contains no actual love interest character. Yes, there are lovers to characters Vance, Dan and Denise, but the significant others only serve to fulfill another purpose and that purpose doesn't involve being the lovey-dovey kind. There isn't much of an archetype character either, similar to how the film isn't necessarily only a thriller but could also be labeled as a slasher too. The characters constantly change attitudes straying from their true selves and creating an interesting dynamics between them from scene to scene and from start to finish.
"Night of the Strangler" dons itself a thriller, yet results in being a sort of slasher-whodunnit hybrid. The slasher-like murders vary in methods; however, even though the film is titled "Night of the Strangler," there is no strangling in the film's duration. There's drowning, getting shot, being bitten by a venomous snake, stabbings, and an impaling contraption made from a spear tip, a spring, and plywood - everything and the kitchen sink except for strangulation. There's really no point in dragging the Houck film through the mud about it's title since the film's U.S. title has had multiple revisions in hopes to revive it's floundering success. Here are the other titles: "Dirty Dan's Women," "Is the Father Black Enough" or my personal favorite "The Ace of Spades."
Vinegar Syndrome has collected this 35mm film and scanned and restored it in a high resolution 2k format in it's original widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The trouble is is that the original print has been terribly roughed up or neglected to where creating a crystal clear picture is practically impossible. The print suffers from various of issues such as cigarette burns, grains, dirt, dull hues, soft focus and I'm a firm believer that this particular restoration will be the best we'll ever get to see though I'm not so certain about a few key scenes that appeared oddly cropped. Certainly watchable and certainly still enjoyable, I wouldn't bypass or shelve this film right away.
The audio is a standard 2.0 stereo mix. The ambient and audio tracks contain numerous pops and crackles, but that isn't the biggest noticeable issue. The dialogue audio is at the forefront but is graced by a low frequency hum through the entire film in the background. The ambient tracks contain bits of static. The soundtrack strikes as the best out of all three being relatively clear.
There are no extras.
Straight out of the American Genre Film Archive independent and exploitation collection, "Night of the Strangler" is finally released respectfully on DVD by sultry Vinegar Syndrome distribution label. The Howco Productions film can be said to be historical even in it's outrageous demeanor, displaying segregation by zany symbolism. The flawed print shouldn't discourage a viewer even the slightest bit from a marvelous film that was well shot and directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr.